Cameron 'drops controversial green pledges'

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David Cameron has moved to head off a backlash by voters against the Conservative Party's plans to fight the next election on a pledge to impose a raft of green taxes.

The Tory leader welcomed his policy review group's 547-page report published yesterday on the quality of life, saying "much" of it would feature in the Tory election manifesto.

However, he is likely to drop some of the more controversial elements – including plans to allow councils to force out-of-town stores to charge customers for parking and to tax free parking at places of work to deter people from driving. He is unsure about the group's call for a moratorium on airport expansion and a review of plans to expand Heathrow.

Mr Cameron, who said he was prepared to make "tough choices", is expected to look favourably on measures such as a "showroom tax" which could add up to £3,000 to the price of gas-guzzling cars and the imposition of VAT on domestic flights, which could put £29 on the cost of flying from London to Manchester. Money would be invested in rail to make it a more attractive option.

The Tory leader tried to head off a Labour attack on the Tories' "green tax hike" by promising that the revenue raised would be put into a "family fund" that would be used to cut taxes for families. "That money will be ring-fenced, civil servants will not be able to get their hands on it and that money will be used to reduce family taxes to help people meet the cost of living," he said.

The fund would be independently audited to guarantee that new taxes on pollution were not "stealth" taxes. Mr Cameron will also stress that his party will also offer "carrots" such as stamp duty rebates for people who make their homes more energy efficient. "This report is not about banning things," he said. "It is actually about giving people opportunities and choices."

The wide-ranging report, which was broadly welcomed by environmental groups, called for an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050, more than the 60 per cent to which the Government is committed.

But some Tory MPs expressed concern that some of its more controversial ideas would cost votes – including parking charges, a plan to curb street lighting which was dubbed a "mugger's charter" and a proposal to restrict white lines in the middle of roads to make people drive more safely.

The report's language was attacked as being "anti- Conservative" by some Tory traditionalists. It said: "Beyond a certain point – a point which the UK reached some time ago – ever-increasing material gain can become not a gift but a burden. As people, it makes us less happy, and the environment upon which all of us, and our economy, depend is increasingly degraded by it."

David Wilshire, a Tory MP whose constituency includes Heathrow, said: "You can't price people out of flying and make it an elitist activity for the wealthy."

John Gummer, the former Environment Secretary who chaired the policy group, said it was keen to be "giving to the next generation something better than we've received ourselves". He hoped that a "green revolution could do for Britain at this time what the industrial revolution did a couple of hundred years ago. I see no contradiction between greenness and economic success."

Andy Burnham, the Treasury Chief Secretary, said: "The scale of the budget gap the Tories have created for themselves could only be filled by swingeing green tax rises or massive public spending cuts."

Liberal Democrats environment spokesman Chris Huhne said the proposals were at odds with the Tories' policy review on economic competitiveness, which called for more roads and airport expansion. "Even David Cameron's circus skills will be tested by trying to ride these two horses in opposite directions," he said.

Quality of Life report: an analysis

Greenhouse gases

Recommendation: To combat climate change, the Tories should plan for an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, not the current 60 per cent target.

Expert view: This will hardly be among today's headlines about restricting flying and making gas guzzling cars more expensive, but to green campaigners it will stand out as an absolutely key commitment. It is increasingly clear to scientists that a 60 per cent cut in Co2 will not nearly be enough to halt the progress of global warming. In its draft Climate Change bill, however, the Labour government is sticking with the 60 per cent target.

Nuclear energy

Recommendation: The final decision on whether or not to build a new generation of nuclear power stations should be left to the private sector, and primarily based on economics.

Expert view This nuclear fence-sitting is very different from the historic Conservative line on nuclear power, which (especially under Margaret Thatcher) was to give it unquestioning and rock-solid support. It also sharply differentiates the Tories from Labour, who are firmly backing nuclear power, and the Lib Dems, who would ban it. Probably a compromise that the Tory leadership, and the party, will go along with; the greens are pleased.

Biofuels

Recommendation: A Tory government should press ahead with biofuels to cut down Co2 emissions, but be very careful of the pitfalls associated with them.

Expert view: Transport fuels made from crops produce no net Co2 (because they absorb it as they grow) and therefore are increasingly seen as a quick fix to cut missions. But they also present potentially enormous environmental and social problems, including rainforest destruction and large-scale use of agricultural land, driving up food prices. Biofuels, says the report, should play an increasing role but be chosen for quality not quantity, with origin verified by the Government.

Sustainable timber

Recommendation: A Tory government should make the importation of timber from questionable sources illegal.

Expert view: Legislation should be brought in to ensure that only legal and sustainable timber products are sold in the UK. Many green campaigners and others concerned about the continuing destruction of the rainforests will welcome this proposal heartily. According to the World Wide Fund forNature, in 2005 the UK was the biggest importer of illegal timber in Europe, with the total making up 26 per cent of ourimported wood.

Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

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